Wednesday marked International Peace Day. To celebrate, students from Germantown’s Parkway Northwest High School participated in speeches, poetry readings, and rap performances to highlight student-chosen discussion topics.
One section of a grade at a time, the entire student body gave presentations: Women’s Rights from a junior class, Environmental Racism from some sophomores, and the freshman class, split into two ‘tutorials’ (similar to homerooms) spoke on types of violence.
“Kids [our] age and younger are dying over petty drama that can be resolved easily. How many kids need to die in order for y’all to understand this needs to stop?” was met with thundering applause.
Sophomore Sarah-Julia Marion says she’s grown up to be very aware of gun violence. “I’ve had to learn about it,” she said. “I think schools can do a better job at providing resources for mental health and giving access to counselors and having better relationships between students would definitely help.”
Justin Collins is a second year history teacher. Since Parkway Northwest includes students from around the city, he says the student body needs more support and resources: “Gun violence is an issue that students from across the city see in their same communities. [We should] offer outlets for kids … that would be the first thing. It’s something that we live with every day and by having outlets for students who are affected by trauma in their communities, whether it be losing a family member or friends to gun violence, just having outlets for those students and resources is the main thing.”
When asked students how they protect themselves, the students all gave a similar answer — stay in groups, don’t hang around the wrong crowd, but at the end of the day, students like Ellie and Trinity, who is concerned for her family, know violence is nearly everywhere: “So many teenagers, young teenagers — younger than me, are dying. I’m 15 and I heard that a 13-year-old died because he got shot. That’s making me scared for my little cousin that’s about to be a teenager.”
Outside, after the presentations, students cooled off with water ice and soft pretzels. Teacher Justin Collins said that the peace day program is a rare positive aspect of focusing on violence, “it’s great that we have a day for positive change … if we can make it something positive then hopefully we can make a change.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.
Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.